A Continuous Journey of Innovation: Inside John Keells IT’s Big Wins at the Microsoft Inspire Awards

For Microsoft in the era of Satya Nadella, fruitful partnerships have come to define its success and recognition as a leader in technology. Annually, at their annual Microsoft Inspire Awards, the global tech giant recognizes the contributions of these partners towards fueling digital transformations across industries. At the 2020 virtual awards ceremony, John Keells IT received 3 awards in recognition of its expertise: Innovate Partner of the Year 2020, SAP on Azure Partner of the Year 2020, and Migrate Partner of the Year 2020.

Commenting on this achievement, COO — Microsoft Solutions and Services at John Keells IT, Nishan Thevathason said, “We at John Keells IT are delighted and humbled for receiving the most coveted recognition from Microsoft at their Inspire Awards 2020. We are grateful to all our customers, for believing & trusting us to enable them during their unique transformation journey to the cloud & beyond. John Keells IT, initiated the journey with Azure back in 2016 when the cloud was a highly debated topic in forums by industry giants. Our move to Azure with SAP was considered a bold move at that time. The privilege of being part of a large conglomerate we were able to learn and expand our know-how. Our capabilities were enhanced by achieving a Gold partner status with Microsoft. But the real, impactful achievement to date is becoming the first ‘SAP on Microsoft Azure Advanced Specialized partner’ in South East Asia (SEA). This consolidated our position as a global superstar partner of Microsoft as only 25 partners have achieved this unique & distinguished status globally to date.

He added, “John Keells IT is committed to investing in Azure continuously. It is our firm belief Azure investments will further enrich our experiences and capabilities in areas of large-scale migrations, PaaS app modernization, enterprise API management, Azure Sack Hub and our most recent inclusion — data analytics. As a “managed partner” of the Microsoft partner ecosystem, we are challenged with the type of work customers engage us on a daily basis. However, we believe it is an excellent opportunity to drive the technology landscape & build other Microsoft partners as well as continuing to push what we all can achieve with Azure. We continue to remain committed to customer success with strong customer-centricity in all our endeavors.

Head of Advisory — Microsoft Solutions and Services at John Keells IT, Azmie Sally added, “We are delighted to receive these awards this year. It shows the incredible dedication of the John Keells IT team towards the Microsoft technology solutions provided to our customers on the Microsoft Azure platform. From educating the customer on the Cloud Adaptation Framework(CAF) to performing a migration to Microsoft Azure and then helping them to manage and govern their Azure Cloud, John Keells IT team today helps customers with the journey of Digital Transformation. Thank you again for Microsoft for this recognition, and we will continue to strengthen this partnership for many years to come.”

With its parent company John Keells Holdings (JKH) having a rich history celebrating 150 years this year of business excellence and operating across several industries, John Keells IT is the relatively new addition to the fold. Yet, when it comes to Microsoft expertise, the company has an in-house team with 180+ collective man-years of experience. Hence, it’s recognized as a gold level Microsoft partner & this year achieved the Microsoft SAP on Azure Advanced Specialization status becoming only one of the 25 global players to achieve this prestigious status.

Since its inception, John Keells IT has engaged with multiple business leaders in helping them identify innovative uses of technology. In doing so, leveraging it as a transformative element to build and operate businesses. This is still merely scratching the surface. John Keells IT has played a critical role in driving the digital transformation for the entire John Keells Group. Over many years of spearheading this journey across various domains, John Keells IT has built an in-house team with this rare & unique skill set. One that’s heavily sought after by business leaders from across the region seeking to leverage technology to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

Spearheading a digital transformation

The partnership between John Keells IT and Microsoft is deeply tied to the digital transformation of the conglomerate itself. In 2007, Microsoft recognized John Keells as a gold partner. Fast forward to 2013 and John Keells Holdings was among the first organizations in Southeast Asia to adopt Office 365 back in the day. Today, this is the status quo but at the time subscriptions services were a novel idea for technology services. Many were sceptical of trying out the software as a service model in 2013,hence, it was a bold move by JKH and was one of the largest enterprise deals for Microsoft.

From the adoption of Office 365, the relationship between Microsoft and John Keells Holdings grew stronger. Looking towards becoming more agile, the conglomerate made the strategic decision to shift its systems to the cloud. Spearheaded by the team at John Keells IT, it was the beginning of the conglomerate’s digital transformation. Ultimately, in 2016 the conglomerate signed an agreement with Microsoft to shift its SAP enterprise infrastructure to Azure marking yet another one of its kind in the region.

Moving a conglomerate to Azure

Before it adopted Azure, John Keells Holdings had its private cloud with on-site data centres. This infrastructure was utilized by 70+ business units across 7 key industries. Investments in technology to support these business units were done based on capital expenditure, determined by 5-year growth projections. Though the long-term accuracy of these projections were heavily debated due to macro environment factors.. It was evident that a more agile means of infrastructure management was necessary that offered operational flexibility.

With the adoption of Azure, John Keells Holdings saw significant cost savings. Long-term planning for technology infrastructure was also reduced as the Azure framework allowed upward and downward scaling of resources depending on market conditions. Additionally, it allowed JKH to plan ahead for big-data-driven process management. Offering access to analytics and insights from across industries, it enhanced cross-collaboration within JKH.

Looking back on this journey, Nishan said, “The John Keells Holdings group of companies at one time had data centres on-premise. With cloud applications reaching maturity, we made a conscious decision to take advantage of the technology. Today, we have over 50% of our LOB applications on Azure, and we expect it to expand to over 80% within the next few years”

Much sought after expertise with SAP

As John Keells IT began shifting the many SAP systems utilized by the JKH Group to Azure, the company developed a unique skill set. Today, SAP on Azure is big business for both Microsoft and SAP currently. Unfortunately, very few companies possess the certifications and experience working with real customers for SAP on Azure. John Keells IT is among those few, with these services being sought after by businesses across the APAC and Middle East regions where John Keells IT focuses on geographically today.

When it comes to SAP systems, the JKH Group is no stranger. Having utilized them since as far back as 2004, John Keells IT while being a younger brand has inherited the teams and experience of managing such systems. By shifting these SAP systems to Azure, John Keells IT was able to not only offer cost savings but greater responsiveness across the JKH Group.

Naturally, this translated into real-world benefits for customers. A clear example of this being with Keells. Operating 100+ supermarkets, Keells promises its customers fresh produce. For the retailer to realize this promise, John Keells IT utilized the SAP Extended Warehouse Management solution with Azure. The SAP solution offered dynamic warehousing capabilities to the Keells supply chain. Paired with the Azure platform, Keells saw significant cost savings and great operational flexibility. This meant the supermarket chain could keep to its promise of fresh produce even as it expanded outlets.

Similarly, working with 70+ businesses, each with their unique requirements, across 7 industries gave John Keells IT a unique perspective. The company can offer its clients the rare combination of varied domain expertise along with real-world experience. Hence, the company can ensure that businesses can leverage the most out of SAP on Azure. Recognizing the high-value potential of this market, John Keells IT continues to invest in developing the necessary skills amongst its teams to capitalize on this opportunity. In doing so, the company has developed a strong international presence.

Recognizing innovation

For the Microsoft Inspire Awards, it is noteworthy to highlight the deciding factor is not revenue. Rather, it’s the level of innovation the tech giants partners display in utilizing technology. In turn, pushing digital transformations and empowering their clients. Recognizing this key fact, COO for Microsoft Solutions & Services at John Keells IT, Nishan Thevathason credits the rare combination of talent and experience within the company for its recent wins.

One of the awards John Keells IT was recognized with was the SAP on Azure Partner of the Year 2019/2020 award for South East Asia New Market. Sharing his thoughts, Nishan said, “At John Keells IT, we have the rare combination of skills needed for SAP migrations to Azure, which is among the most complex migrations in the cloud world today.”

John Keells IT also received the Migrate Partner of the Year 2019/2020 for South-East Asia New Market. Here Rohan points to the work John Keells IT did with Keells. One of the projects being the previously mentioned SAP migration to Azure for dynamic warehouse management, which allowed the supermarket chain to deliver on its promise of freshness. Other projects carried out by John Keells IT include the migration of the SAP IS Retail System utilized by Keells to Azure. The company was also responsible for the migration & modernization of the central database utilized by Keells to Azure.

The third award John Keells IT received was the Innovate Partner of the Year 2019/2020 for Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Building upon the success recognized by the previous awards, this Nishan states is a recognition of the collective innovative work the company does. Beyond the complexities of maximizing the investment of SAP on Azure, John Keells IT is also developing next-gen predictive analytics and innovative IoT platforms. “It’s a combination of things we do that helped us win this award,” states Nishan.

Enabling digital transformation for the future

First Ever Microsoft Azure Stack in Sri Lanka with John Keells IT

The recent wins at the Microsoft Inspire Awards serve as a clear indicator to all of the innovative prowess inside John Keells IT. None of this happened overnight. Rather it was the result of a long journey tied to the digital transformation of the JKH Group. A massive undertaking involving 70+ businesses across 7 key industries, many of which are leaders in their own right. Through this journey, John Keells IT has developed a unique set of skills to leverage the power of cloud computing. This expertise was recognized at the Microsoft Inspire Awards 2020. It has also made John Keells IT the first “SAP on Microsoft Azure Advanced Specialized partner” in South East Asia (SEA) & one of 25 globally.

Still, the company is not resting on its laurels. Already, John Keells IT is looking towards harnessing the power of Azure Stack, which brings the agility of cloud computing to on-site premises. This allows businesses in industries with strict data protection requirements to harness the fast-paced innovation and cost-savings of cloud computing. Back in April, the company deployed the 1st Azure Stack in Sri Lanka at an SLT Data Center. Looking towards the future, John Keells IT is focused on utilizing Azure and other technologies to assist organizations in their digital transformation journeys.

In closing, CEO of John Keells IT & Group CIO of JKH, Ramesh Shanmuganathan said, “Today, we talk of a connected world and a connected customer where new, value ecosystems are being created to fulfil a new promise, a new experience and that too in the New Normal. We envisioned to build this for ourselves & our customers & we feel Microsoft Azure is a critical piece in our journey. We have moved most of our applications to Azure and leveraging the inherent advantages of the cloud-driven by simplicity and built with resilience for reimaging future possibilities. All continuously powered by data.”

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